Shanghai heritage under threat

We take a look at Shanghai's historical buildings

Some of the most historically important buildings in Shanghai could be gone in months. Katya Knyazeva and Charlotte Middlehurst uncover the heritage buildings under threat

Ever-Spring Hall (Shi Chun Tang)

What The other Yu Garden

Threat Abandonment, vandalism

The history Built in 1559, this was one of the most spectacular Ming dynasty gardens in Old Town, the other being tacky tourist haven Yuyuan. Ever-Spring Hall is not only older, but architecturally more important thanks to its 400-year-old columns, vaults and ornaments. Both were built by Pan Yunduan, a Ming dynasty scholar and bureaucrat, but while Yuyuan has become one of Shanghai’s most famed destinations, Ever-Spring Hall has fallen into disrepair. After Pan’s family squandered their fortune, it became Shanghai’s first Catholic church before being stripped bare and sold. More recently it was a primary school gym before authorities responded to preservationists by constructing a giant wall around it.

Now Despite being officially protected by the Huangpu district government, the building remains sorely neglected. Hidden behind the wall and off limits to the public, the hall is now watched over by stray cats and a sleepy security guard. It is well worth making the trip and sneaking in to catch a glimpse of the cavernous ancestral hall and looming colonnades.

Find it 137 Wutong Lu, near Anren Jie, Huangpu district. Yu Garden.黄浦区梧桐路137, 近安仁街

Marine Merchants’ Guildhall (Shangchuan Huiguan)

The city’s last remaining guildhall

Threat Attrition, damage by superficial renovation

The history Dockside guildhalls were built by immigrant traders, who comprised half the population of Shanghai. These buildings were portals back to the homeland where you could meet, sip tea, and chew the cud in your native tongue. They were also electrifying sub-worlds where courtesans and actors would entertain VIP guests. Of the 30 or so built, the Marine Merchants’, built by Fujian boat owners in 1715, is tragically the only one remaining.

Now If you sneak in past the guard you’ll see the original wooden carvings, gilded eaves and golden ornaments in their natural setting. Look carefully for the faintly engraved dedications to the folk goddess Mazu that were scoured off by the Red Guards but are still just about visible (see main picture).

Find it Opposite Dongjiadu Church (185 Dongjiadu Lu), near Zhongshan Nan Lu, Huangpu district. Xiaonanmen. 黄浦区董家渡路185号对面, 近中山南路

Nie’s Garden

A nongtang with a rich history

Threat Demolition

The history This compound, containing six houses and a large garden with brooks and pavilions, was built in the 1920s and owned by the Nie family, headed by Nie Jigui, a late Qing dynasty official. Nie’s wife was the daughter of Zeng Guofan, himself a historically important official who played a pivotal role in the Taiping Rebellion of 1850-1864. Nie’s youngest daughter meanwhile went on to befriend numerous Hollywood celebrities during her travels in Europe and the US, and was part of the reception for Charlie Chaplin when he visited Shanghai in 1934. She also had Soong May-Ling (the future Mrs Chiang Kai-Shek) as a bridesmaid at her wedding. The estate itself, which combined traditional Shanghai shikumen and Western architectural styles, was fully collectivised under Mao: 67 families moved into the houses while the gardens were converted into factories.

Now Rumour has it that the Yangpu district urban planning department are set to turn this area into a ‘commercial district’. On our visit we saw the remnants of Shanghai Yaming Lighting Company workshops in the garden.

Where Lane 51, Liaoyang Lu, near Huoshan Lu, Yangpu district.Dalian Lu. 杨浦区辽阳路51, 近霍山路

The Secluded Library (Shu Yin Lou)

What Shanghai’s oldest house

Threat Neglect

The history These extravagant gardens were built in 1763 for the Lu family, who also had property in what is now Lujiazui and on Lujiabang Lu. Lu Xixiong (one of the most prominent scholars in the Qing dynasty) built a walled library where after his retirement he lived like a hermit, giving the compound its name. By the late nineteenth century, the Lus were in decline and were forced to sell the estate to Fujian merchants named Guo. It then became a toy factory and army barracks before being reclaimed by the Guos in the 1990s. Recent attempts at restoration by a team of Danish preservationists were rejected by the authorities, who are intent on keeping the property in Chinese hands.

Now Madame Guo, 90, and her daughter Yuwen, 59, still live in a small space in the centre of the complex surrounded by the crumbling rooms of their once-magnificent estate. Visitors should keep an eye out for the 800-year-old Song dynasty well and stunning hand-crafted fretwork along the way.

Where 77 Tiandeng Nong, near Xundao Jie, Huangpu district. Xiaonanmen. 黄浦区天灯弄77, 近巡道街

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